Connecting with the Field

Arthur-ColorBy Arthur Weissman, Ph.D, Green Seal President/CEO

I like my office at work and have a wonderful staff. But one of my favorite aspects of working at Green Seal is getting away from these: visiting our certification clients and traveling to places where we have projects with partners on the ground.

An organization like Green Seal constantly risks being in an ivory tower of standard-setting and certifying. Since we don’t produce any products or services ourselves, we are removed from the day-to-day challenges involved in making them more sustainable. Also, as a quasi-academic, third-party body, Green Seal necessarily stays aloof from the fray of ordinary commerce, but this can limit our understanding of the forces that affect the very performance we are benchmarking.

An antidote to this third-party aloofness is to stay in better touch with our clients and partners in the field. Many of our clients have noticed and commented recently on our greater customer orientation in the past few years. This has not been an accident, and we’ve done this for a variety of reasons. Ultimately, we realize that our clients and partners are the true measure of our programs and of sustainability, for they are the agents to implement both.

Recently I visited Chicago primarily to connect with our clients and partners involved in Green Seal’s pilot restaurant certification program there. I toured the largest convention center in North America (McCormick Place), which has two Green Seal-certified restaurants so far; talked with a major restaurant group owner applying to get certified; deepened our relationship with our technical assistance partner, the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition; and briefed key people in the City government on our program, which uses Chicago as an incubator.

I saw both the opportunities and the challenges of making the food-service industry more sustainable, and how any program inevitably becomes enmeshed in many organizational, institutional, and technical complexities. But the program is growing rapidly, there is real enthusiasm and dedication on the ground among our pilot clients and GCRC as partner, and the City realizes the importance of the program to its own environmental footprint and position as a sustainability leader.

In short, I came back to the office and to my staff re-energized and even more enthusiastic about making the world greener!

There is another aspect to this travel idyll that goes against the prevailing trend but must be stated. Certainly, every organization, Green Seal included, must seek to reduce the environmental impact of its operations, including travel. But increasingly we live in a “virtual” world in more ways than one, and these are not all conducive to human interaction and communication. In the case of a trip such as the one to Chicago, there is just no substitute for face-to-face interaction and discussion. It focuses both parties and brings attention to the key aspects of any situation.

So I try to limit the impact of my travel while on the road and by combining trips and not making unnecessary ones. But I do enjoy getting out, on the ground, and… away from the office.